Dear Future volunteers (or long-trip travelers),
I present you with the only packing list you’ll ever need! It doesn’t matter what country you are going to – Panama, Zimbabwe, Ukraine – this is the list that will get you through 27 months of any conditions the Peace Corps will throw your way.
Naturally you will want clothes that are built for traveling. Donate all your clothes to Goodwill and take yourself, and your entire bank account, down to REI and stock up on wrinkle-free, quick drying everything!
Cargo pants – the pockets will be nice to hold your compass and hunting knife.
Button down shirts – business casual and conservative. 7 colors for the 7 days of the week.
Underwear – spring for the $20 pairs to ensure they last all 2 years.
Hiking socks – extra thick for comfort and protection.
You’ll be outside all day, every and really you only need two types of shoes. While at REI take a stroll down the shoe aisle…
Hiking boots – above ankle, water proof, heavy duty. Spring for steel toed if you can $$$.
Chacos – these will be your best friend even if you think they’re ugly and talk bad about them behind their back.
Two years worth of everything!
Did you write all that down? DID YOU?! Good… now throw it all away.
The reality of packing for the Peace Corps is that you’re not going to find the perfect packing list. You WILL search for it… I did. You’ll spend weeks trying to pinpoint it. You’ll read through every blog out there for your country and find about 100 variations of what to bring. The Peace Corps does include a packing list in your country welcome book – some of it will be useful, some of it won’t. The PC list in generated by previous volunteers but it’s unsure when these volunteers served and some aspects of their suggestions feel very outdated. Plus the list is so long there’s no way you’ll fit everything in your luggage limit (they even state this at the beginning of the list).
So how do you know what to pack for two years in the Peace Corps? You don’t, really. Even if you know the country you are going to you don’t know what your exact site will be like – you won’t know until you get there. Your site can be an extreme opposite from the next volunteers. All in one country you can have sites that are extremely rural with no water or electricity, in the middle of the dessert, or sites in bigger towns with western toilets and shopping centers, with humid climates. There’s just no sure fire way to prepare yourself.
Rather than a list of things you should bring, here is a list of packing strategies that should be helpful in any country you are preparing to serve in:
- Take others’ packing list as suggestions. If the list was written after the volunteer has already been serving for a while it could be a valuable resource. These types of lists often include items that you can and can’t find around that person’s site – and they sometimes state if items can be found in the capital or bigger cities.
- Don’t pack as if you’re going camping for two years. Take a look at pictures of natives in the capital city? Are they decked out in cargo pants and wrinkle resistant shirts? Probably not. If they can live day to day life without these items so can you. While these items can be useful, you should also bring plenty of clothing items you’d wear at home.
- Research local culture and traditions. It’s very possible you’re going to a country that culturally has gender-specific clothing roles. While you should bring what you like, make sure these items are appropriate. If it’s not acceptable to show below the knee bring longer pants for the public and shorts for the comfort of your home. Respecting the culture is an extremely important part of integration.
- Consider climate and environment. Know if the environment is normally warm or cold, rainy or dry, dusty or clear. You should pack for a variety of conditions, but cater to the one that is most extreme. It’s very possible there’s hot days and cold nights or it’s extremely cold outside all the time but indoor it’s always kept warm – pack layers!!!
- Pack for yourself, not others. While suggestions are great, ultimately you want to bring things that YOU think will be valuable. If you don’t enjoy hiking, don’t go out and buy super bulky, durable, expensive hiking boots. If like to wear makeup, bring some for days you feel you need a pick-me-up. You have two bags to fill for two years worth of living – use that space for things you will actually use and want.
- “You can always have things sent to your later” – a phrase many volunteers will tell you. Sending packages is spendy and sometimes questionable if they will arrive, but it can be done. If you get to your site and decide you need something, have someone send it to you. It wouldn’t hurt to have a few items at home already packaged and ready to send if you have a feeling you might want them. And if you’re really concerned about the price of sending packages, leave some money that will cover the cost for the sender.
If you have any topics or questions you’d like me to cover before I leave or while in Ethiopia please leave let me know in the comments.